Splendid Cycles Big Sale

Editorial: Marketing campaign asks the wrong question

Posted by on July 2nd, 2009 at 10:33 am

I really hoped to ignore this story, but now that word about it has spread I sort of have to (unfortunately, a mere Twitter update didn’t suffice).

A local web marketing/consulting firm has plastered a MAX train with the question: “Should cyclists pay a road tax?”

The company says they’re doing this campaign to demonstrate how effective they are at analyzing web conversations. They say the question of bike licensing and registration have been hot topics in Portland lately (and then they link to an article we posted way back in March).

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I don’t agree that the topic has been “hot” lately; but it might be now, thanks to this misguided publicity stunt.

The problem is that the question has (yet again) been posed in a discriminatory and unbalanced way. It plays into the idea that there are two classes of people, “cyclists” and “motorists,” and that “cyclists” are somehow getting a free ride and don’t deserve to be on the roads.

That premise is blatantly untrue.

No matter how many times it’s rationally refuted, this question about whether bikes pay for the roads continues to come up.

So, let’s review a few things:

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA), 92% of the funds for local roads (the ones where people ride bikes the most) come from property, income, and sales taxes — which everyone pays for.

Most people don’t ride on interstates or state highways, but 8% of highway funds come from general taxes, which are paid by everyone — so people who don’t even own a car end up subsidizing motor vehicle travel.

But that’s just the start of the subsidies all taxpayers (yes, even “cyclists”) pay. Consider how general taxes help pay for all the fire trucks and ambulances that respond to the daily carnage caused by cars crashing into each other.

And that’s just the start. I could mention how bikes have a negligible impact on roads, where cars and trucks cause extensive and expensive damage (ridden over any big bumps/ruts/potholes lately?).

In fact, a May 2008 study by UC Davis’ Institute for Transportation Studies estimated that; “the total ‘tax subsidy’ to motor-vehicle users in the US may be in the range of $19–64 billion per year, or $0.11–0.37 per gallon of motor fuel.” (Thanks to a commenter below for pointing this study out.)

Oh, and there’s also the thing about how having bikes on the road means lower health care costs, safer streets for all users (not just people on bikes), better air quality, less congestion, and so on and so forth.

It’s very unfortunate that this ad campaign will do nothing but perpetuate a fallacy and enrage people in cars who already spew this question as they rage by people on bikes who have every right to be on the road.

And, like similar arguments I’ve had to make when The Oregonian and a local shock-jock radio station irresponsibly fanned the “bikes vs. cars” flames, this type of thing can have a tangible, negative impact on public safety.

If they wanted to delve into this topic, they should have asked “Do people who drive cars pay enough?” or even better, “How the heck are we going to pay for these roads?!”

The company says they’ll plaster another MAX train with the results of their study. We can’t wait. Maybe once this is over we can finally move on to a more important topic.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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John Lascurettes
Guest

If webtrends can put proof to their pudding, they’ll pick up what you’ve said here too. With the amount of traffic you get, it can’t be ignored. Thanks for making the cogent and fact-filled argument.

Lord Nelson
Guest
Lord Nelson
bonnie
Guest
bonnie

Thanks for summing this up. I’ve had to respond to this question in the past and really appreciate that you have put the reasoned answer into a short form.
(I personally hope their publicity stunt fails. I’d like to know who they are.)

Bonnie, the company is Webtrends. They’re based in Portland. –Jonathan

anonymoose
Guest
anonymoose

Motor vehicle operators -> the ultimate special interest group.
Special rights for car owners.

the future
Guest
the future

the fact that this company chose to exploit the cycling community for no reason other than to promote their company is sickening. i would understand that if there were an organization which truly felt that this was an issue and paid for a billboard to further their point even if i completely disagree with it. but this is just shameless promotion which puts people on bikes in danger of aggression from drivers.

we learned too well last summer how the media can easily fan the bike vs. car flames.

debating the question is really moot since they don’t even really care, though thanks for those facts jonathan.

hey webtrends. analyze this….you suck.

JohnO
Guest
JohnO

I left a very similar comment on a blog for the web analytics company that’s sponsoring the wrap.

It’s really annoying, and reminds me of the snarky coverage the Oregonian’s Harry Esteve gave to the Idaho law.

What none of them realize (probably because they don’t ride) is that cyclists sharing roads with cars are already vulnerable, and anything that polarizes the debate has the potential to make that worse.

Scott E
Guest
Scott E

There’s also the nice study by the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis.

http://pubs.its.ucdavis.edu/publication_detail.php?id=1170

Short version: “We estimate that the total ‘tax subsidy’ to motor-vehicle users in the US may be in the range of $19–64 billion (109) per year.”

That’s just pure dollars — nothing about the socioeconomic impacts.

ME 2
Guest
ME 2

Thank you very much for the editorial Jonathan. I jumped out of my seat when I read about it in this morning’s Oregonian.

I think it is clear that this strategy is not about generating meaningful results, but showing prospective clients how many people they can draw to their surveys.

I for one refuse to participate in their poll and I urge other cyclists to as well. The lower the numbers and the narrow the demographic the worse it will be for Webtrends to leverage this stunt into business for their services.

KJ
Guest
KJ

I refuse to even comment on or visit thier site and further their gleeful schadenfreude and financial gain. Will we get a kickback? Maybe they can donate some money eared of this publicity stunt to fund some bike infrastructure.

I agree with Lord Neilson, there is a special place in hell for marketers, I swear they have no soul and they have
bad research methods to boot.

asshattery…

thanks for making my commute safer webtrends… and contributing to good, positive public discourse between different users of public spaces that we ALL pay for that is not incendiary and fosters good will! Way to make a positive difference!(snark off)

BURR
Guest
BURR

TriMet should not be accepting ads like this, don’t they have a policy that would prohibit them from doing so?

andy
Guest
andy

Boycott Webtrends. Spread the word.

Herb Fyfield
Guest
Herb Fyfield

Jonathan,

Thanks for the cogent pushback on this ill-conceived campaign.

HF

skjalf
Guest
skjalf

What I’d like to see… is someone post a printable document with all the stats on it. Then it can be put up around town near the signs.

PdxMark
Guest
PdxMark

As maddening as their stunt is, I like the irony of the ad being posted on the side of the transportation mode that is most heavily subsidized by non-users. I suspect that each passenger on the train is subsidized by more than the price of his or her ticket or pass. Now THAT’S Irony…

indy
Guest

I would gladly and happily pay a bike tax if it meant I would get better maintained roads and bike boulevards. I rarely drive anymore, so the argument goes both ways (why should I be taxed for maintenance on roads I rarely use or cause repairs on.)

joe
Guest
joe

nothing to add except for how much i like it when jmaus gets into SMACKDOWN mode!!

also, webtrends is a dying company – probably wont have to refute them again.

Brian
Guest
Brian

These marketeers are obviously retards. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for resumes with ex-webtrends marketing people.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Andy, how exactly are you going to boycott Webtrends? They’re not a consumer company, they sell services to enterprise. Enterprise could give a shit about ethics and will buy who they want to buy if it supports their business plan, model, bottom line or whatever.

It would be like trying to boycott Akamai.

Neighbor
Guest

You forgot to mention the statistic of “cyclists” who also own, license, operate, and fuel motor vehicles.

Some people lead a crazy dual lifestyle and we switch from cyclist to motorist all the time! Insane, I know!

Marcello Napolitano
Guest
Marcello Napolitano

I find interesting that a company that claims to be in the marketing industry clearly has no clue of how to word questions in a non-biased way.

The question I would ask: Should homeowners who bike/walk as their main form of transportation continue to subsidize (with their property taxes) the widening of roads that only benefits rush-hour car commuters? Inquiring minds would like to know. May be too long a question to fit on a Max train, but it would be worth asking.

andy
Guest
andy

John, there are plenty of cyclists who work for companies who might make use of Webtrends’ services. While we as individuals can’t boycott them, the companies we work for can make that call.

Esther
Guest
Esther

I left a comment with trimet’s customer service about their choice to receive advertising revenue from this company.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Nice article and nice refutation!

The question I have is: why should the broader cycling community (if such a thing exists) be concerned about the question? My concern about “bike vs. car” questions in general is the extent to which they eleicit behavioral responses from drivers make it less safe for bikes. The question being posted by webtrends does not raise this concern for me. This is about as pure a policy question as you could ask for. I’d be far more concerned if the question was along the lines of “should cars yeild to bikes”.

Another reason I’m not concerned is that we have such strong arguments to show that cyclists and other non-drivers already do pay for the roads. When the question is this bad, answering it becomes a chance to erase some very basic ignorance. Granted, this is not a question that is moving the cycling conversation forward, but it is far from a question that cyclists should be concerned about answering.

I wish that webtrends had found a better question. I wish Tri-Met had pushed back on posting the ads (ironic that Tri-Met gets add revenues for asking a question about the supposed subsidies of another transportation mode, no?). I do think they are trying to cash in on a divisive issue. Overall, I don’t like seeing this type of ad. But I also think that this is hardly something to be concerned about, and could even be a chance to put the a knife through this red-heerring’s heart.

Jessica Roberts
Guest
Jessica Roberts

Nice editorial. Here are a few more studies to keep on hand for refuting similar idiotic arguments:

1. Todd Litman @ VTPI shows that nonmotorized users overpay their share of roadways costs, thus subsidizing motorists
2. Texas DOT analysis proves that no road project “pays for itself”
3. Don’t forget the myth of “free parking” that we all pay dearly for (both in costs added on to real estate, goods and services AND in the opportunity costs of land reserved for private automobile storage): here’s a repost of a 2005 article in Governing Magazine on the topic

Alexis
Guest
Alexis

I “participated” and told them to go to hell.

“Please keep your nose out of this conversation. Way to be obnoxious. We ALREADY pay road taxes. Referencing bikeportland.org –“According to the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA), 92% of the funds for local roads (the ones where people ride bikes the most) come from property, income, and sales taxes — which everyone pays for.

Bikes can’t ride on (the vast majority of) highways, but 8% of highway funds come from general taxes, which are paid by everyone — so people who don’t even own a car end up subsidizing motor vehicle travel.”

We’re already paying. For the roads we cause FAR less damage to than cars. So please (PLEASE) keep your nose out of it and stop trying to fan the cars v bikes thing. It’s a complete lie that cyclists don’t help maintain roads (not to mention that most cyclists, not including me, do have a car and do some driving)

You’re creating an artificial conversation about a non-issue and trying to spread misinformation to make yourselves look cute. Kindly mind your own business.”

Alexis
Guest
Alexis

@ Jessica Roberts–that first one is for Canada. We don’t have the same laws or taxes, so IDK that it really applies. Good evidence if you’re in Victoria, BC though

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Excellent editorial and subsequent weigh-ins (i.e. Jessica Roberts’ added gems). This argument is a tiresome one, but the more educated and prepared we are to debunk such unfounded platforms, the more successful we’ll be at pushing forward a more fair and egalitarian system. Great energy and efforts, everyone. Keep up the momentum.

Justin Kistner
Guest

“It’s very unfortunate that this ad campaign will do nothing but perpetuate a fallacy and enrage people in cars who already spew this question as they rage by people on bikes who have every right to be on the road.”

Actually, the temperature of the conversation has been strongly inline with most of the great points you make in this post. We appreciate the thoughtful comments from everyone so far and think everyone will benefit from a more complete picture of the community’s sentiments around this issue. In fact, some of the best answers have been based on whether the question is poorly framed to begin with. It’s unfortunate that some people are angry and therefore missing the opportunity to contribute productively, but it’s not surprising. I don’t see how it could be a bad result for the bike community if the outcome is that people feel taxation of cyclists is based on a fallacy to begin with.

Justin Kistner, Webtrends

pdxKate
Guest
pdxKate

Thank you for this post and all the great points! Keep up the great work!

Andrea
Guest
Andrea

I do think this campaign is highly inflammatory, but I do take issue with your article as well. You can’t take issue with shock jocks for creating a bicycle vs. car debate when you’re clearly fanning the flames yourself. For example, many of those ruts and potholes aren’t caused by cars, but by big rigs, and I challenge most people to obtain food with out them. Yes, cars do crash into them, and I suppose it’s impossible that an irresponsible cyclist choosing not to obey the rules of the road has ever caused an accident.

Also, not everyone pays property, income, or sales tax. I get a refund, every year, don’t own a home, and don’t pay sales tax in Oregon. That’s why a federal study doesn’t necessarily apply to a local issue.

If you would like to talk about socioeconomic impacts, I actually went to school in UCDavis which had a group of people try and ban cars in the city all together. Some of the cyclists would travel in packs (I kid you not), have little respect for rules of the road and would flip you off or spit on your car if they thought they were in the right. It certainly left me with a taste of the socio, unfortunately, it was as in sociopathic. Rudeness and right-fighting is certainly not going to help this issue.

Granted I spend most of my time on four wheels, but I honestly wonder, why don’t cyclists support a registration tax with a condition that some, or all of it goes to bicycle education and helmets for children? or that it go to keep athletic education or arts in schools? Extra goodwill never hurts. And maybe a registration would make it easier to find stolen property? I’m just spitballin, but it seems that everyone has to pay a little more right now with new taxes and fees. You can fight the inevitable, bow to the inevitable, or try to make sure that your money supports what you want.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

Andrea wrote:

You can’t take issue with shock jocks for creating a bicycle vs. car debate when you’re clearly fanning the flames yourself.

The shock-jock laughed at the idea of people in cars running people on bikes off the road. The Oregonian themselves admitted to over-sensationalizing a road rage incident. I seriously doubt anything I’ve written comes even close to either of those transgressions.

“Many of those ruts and potholes aren’t caused by cars, but by big rigs, and I challenge most people to obtain food with out them.”

Cars with snow studs when they aren’t needed to a lot of damage to the roads, and anyways, I should have referred to motor vehicles in general… i see cars/trucks/big rigs as being in the same boat really.

As for getting my food.. there are other, more efficient ways to move goods through a city.

“I suppose it’s impossible that an irresponsible cyclist choosing not to obey the rules of the road has ever caused an accident. “

sure, people riding bikes have caused crashes… but it is dwarfed by the carnage from motor vehicle crashes… in the realm of 40,000 Americans die because of them every year for starters.
===

Justin from Webtrends wrote:

“It’s unfortunate that some people are angry and therefore missing the opportunity to contribute productively, but it’s not surprising.”

Of course people are angry, because your question is patently incorrect and perpetuates a false dichotomy that contributes to more dangerous conditions for people that ride bikes.

“I don’t see how it could be a bad result for the bike community…”

Justin,
you can’t base the impact of your campaign solely on the responses you receive. It’s on the side of a MAX train and has been covered by the The Oregonian for God’s sake. The battle is in influencing the hearts and minds of people behind the steering wheel… and when some people read that question, it automatically validates for them that somehow “cyclists” are freeloaders and therefore don’t have a legitimate right to the road.

Matt Picio
Guest

Andrea (#30) – everyone who lives in a home and pays rent or a mortgage pays property tax, unless they live in a state that doesn’t collect property tax.

Yes, renters pay property tax – sure, the landlord writes the check, but I don’t know any landlord who pays the money out of his or her pocket for any property other than the one they live in. They adjust the rent high enough to pay for the tax. Find me a renter whose landlord pays the tax without collecting, and I’ll eat my words, but yes, renters pay property tax, or the landlords would go bankrupt.

a
Guest
a

as despicable a stunt as this is….
[why not ask: should women pay a voting tax?]

the problem I see is that they plan on plastering a second train with the “results”

it may be incumbent on us as cyclists to hammer the site with bike love so that the public “result” is a supportive

Adron
Guest

I’m sure that the results will prove – is that the overwhelming majority of people in Oregon think a bicycle tax is patently absurd.

IMHO

Jordan
Guest
Jordan

Thanks for the article, Jonathan. Your points are excellent and should be placed on a small card for all cyclists to repeat whenever they are confronted with this debate.

However, if you all read the story from The Oregonian (which for the first time may have done a better job reporting on a bicycle issue), the second plastering will contain the answer to the question. This could actually work for the good of cyclists. This is actually an excellent marketing tool. They are raising discussion, creating debate, and then following through later, while at the same time bringing awareness to the capabilities of the company. I say hats off webtrends. You may have given cyclists a boost.

ScottG
Guest
ScottG

I’m going to bookmark this story and the comments for future reference, for certain.

Thanks for giving us the info we need to counter the ridiculous (yet common) sentiment that bicyclists are somehow stealing from other road users.

We should target every Oregonian article about bikes and summarize this info in story comments, and get the first word in.

Brad Reber
Guest
Brad Reber

That’s cute, Justin Kistner poops on the MAX then thanks us for discussing the stench. I especially like the part where he admonishes us for getting angry about it and therefore missing the opportunity to talk rationally about his poop.

a
Guest
a

justin

what other questions did webtrends consider? How about these?

should minorities be allowed to ride the bus?

should children be crated during transport?

should disabled parking spaces cost more for privileged access?

consider them for your next selfish marketing scheme…i’m sure they’ll be a great service to the community.

a
Guest
a

“hats off, webtrends”??!?

jordan @ 35, the “results”, however they turn out, will be delivered with far less impact and the damage will have already been done…this is a totally bone-headed marketing campaign that seeks to create bad blood by its fundamental premise. and the marketer stands to the side and counts his money…

how about creating a marketing scheme that actually brings some GOOD vibes to the community, instead of firing up bad ones?

tony
Guest
tony

I wonder if WebTrends pays enough corporate taxes…. maybe we should find out how much they pay and stage a rally outside their coprorate (not a misspelling) headquarters.

miracle_minnie
Guest
miracle_minnie

As the outcome of this “discussion” is going to be pimped just as much as the ill-worded question is, wouldn’t it be a better idea to impart education to help the cause rather than ignoring it or just getting mad about it? Personally, when I hear someone spouting off b.s. dribble about bicycling (or anything else I care about) and the bicycling community, I try to educate that person. This is just a company doing the same thing, only instead of forcing an idea, they’re requesting feedback, even if the question itself is incendiary. This was not an attack on the bicycling community – this is a marketing scheme; there’s really no reason to get ridiculously defensive about it. Let’s use this for our betterment.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“…the second plastering will contain the answer to the question.”

I can see the second plastering now:

SHOULD CYCLISTS PAY A ROAD TAX? n o”
(the ‘n’ and ‘o’ would be split between two MAX cars…)

Kevin Hedahl
Guest
Kevin Hedahl

Justin, I know you are smart enough to know that a biased poll will receive biased results. With that in mind, this advertising is meant to:

1. create biased results.

2. create publicity for Webtrends.

3. build a contact database of people, their employer, and contact info.

The method chosen by Wedtrends has the unfortunate and unethical result of perpetuating a disproven belief. Next time, please choose a question/topic that won’t result in anger towards a distinctly unprotected group.

at
Guest
at

So does WebTrends even have a place in the analytics market anymore, what with Google offering awesome and free web analytics tools of its own on a massive and successful scale, backed by a world class infrastructure on a globally distributed grid?

To be honest, I haven’t used Webtrends since 2005 when they quadrupled their product’s base price for no apparent reason. But all I care about is the conversation that takes place.

ME 2
Guest
ME 2

Alexis 26, you should ready the study before weighing in on it. The laws and structure for financing roads is not that different between Canada and the US. Also the author relies heavily on US data sources so the conclusions are equally applicable to both countries.

Andy
Guest
Andy

Granted that this has been done in a way that gratuitously contributes to an unfortunate existing problem, it has been done, so what can we do now?

It now becomes an opportunity. Assuming that they can reasonably aggregate the results, this can’t help but come out in favor of cycling. I cannot believe that there is a rational argument to be made for the other side, so any “informational” aspect of the “results” will clearly favor cycling.

That leaves the “emotional” aspects, which will likely break into threee groups — those who are passionately on the side of cycling as transportation, those who are passionately against “cyclists getting a free ride”, and those who don’t care or haven’t made up their minds. Now those who haven’t made up their minds will look at the informational aspect and see clearly that those who are against cycling are acting from a place of self-interest and negative emotion and they’ll be moved with compassion toward the cyclists.

This is how Gandhi won India its independence from Britain, except he used news media instead of internet marketing firms.

Andrew Holtz
Guest
Andrew Holtz

I decided to respond to the webtrends stunt by pointing out that currently cyclists subsidize drivers and including links to a couple of online articles with the facts about where the money for roads really comes from.

Yelling at them just feeds those who are looking for excuses to dislike cyclists. Instead, we should bury the ignorance with facts and reason. It ain’t easy, but those with open ears will learn something.

Jessica Roberts
Guest
Jessica Roberts

Alexis #26, while the Victoria Transport Policy Institute is based in Canada, I believe the analysis in the “Whose Roads” study is based on US data. You will see numerous references to AASHTO, the FHWA, specific locations such as Chicago and Wisconsin, and US-based studies. The “Roadway Funding” section on page 6, for example, performs an analysis based on US figures, then states that “Canadian local roads are also funded primarily by general taxes.”

It could be made clearer in the study, though.

neversummer
Guest
neversummer

Should citizens pay extra road taxes if they choose a low impact, health promoting mode of transport?

Jimmy P
Guest
Jimmy P

I wrote to Trimet. It’s irresponsible on their part to accept this kind of advertisement. It creates an unsafe environment for everyone on the road. And, it does it with blatant lies – implying we don’t pay taxes.

It’s irresponsible, it’s dangerous, and it shouldn’t be allowed.